Mary T. Smith in her yard

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    Photo: William Arnett
Description: 

Written inscriptions, vigorous brushwork, and virtuoso color were not her only expressive tools; she also could dress her message.

Written inscriptions, vigorous brushwork, and virtuoso color were not her only expressive tools; she also could dress her message. An interesting relationship existed between Smith’s wardrobe and her art. In her closet, Smith kept an extensive dress collection defined, as was her yard, by juxtapositions of the spiritual and the mundane. These dresses reflected her every mood and thought. They hung in her closet, compartmentalized, sacred and profane; quiet, solemn spirituals sung by Marian Anderson; boisterous celebrations of life by Louis Armstrong, Little Richard, B.B. King. When she felt pious or humble, when she would draw a picture of a simple little house with a tiny lone occupant and accompany it with a statement of ultimate humility—"My name is someone. The Lord for me he no”—or when she would paint Christ surrounded by spots of blood, she would dress in white–the traditional domestic servant’s outfit (it was called a “uniform”) or a nurse’s attire—to serve God or to try to heal us all. When she painted a portrait of a friend with orange and green house paint, or other lively multicolor tributes to her dogs and cats, or when she felt like chastising us for our shortcomings (“On face is all righ to face wont do” or “The Lord know ho is good and ho is baid and ho tells lies”), she cam out in explosions of color, flashing, zigzagging, speaking her piece, standing her ground.